Battleship Texas Gets a New Skipper

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is close to hiring a new skipper for the historic Battleship Texas, the only World War One era battleship left in the world. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports this comes at a critical moment for the old battle wagon.

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Regional Parks Director Jerry Hopkins says he doesn't get many chances to hire a battleship skipper, but that's what he's doing. Hopkins is interviewing candidates for the job of battleship manager, and he's looking for an administrator with experience in fund raising -- heavy on the fundraising -- because the old ship is facing the worst crisis she's faced since she was saved from the scrap heap after World War II.

"It is critical because there are a lot of changes proposed about how to take care of it into perpetuity, and with the new visitors center coming on line here pretty soon, and hopefully with some Prop 8 money and some battleground restoration, I mean yeah, it's time to do all this."

Hopkins says the Texas is literally decaying and falling apart there in her slip on the Houston Ship Channel at San Jacinto Battleground State Park. He says however there is a permanent -- and expensive -- solution to that problem.

"It's just sitting there rusting away and we're constantly fighting the elements, and so the idea was to take it completely out of the water. And when you do that you remove all the necessities we've been fighting all these years, with watertight integrity and hull repair, those kinds of issues, what water does to metal. So this could actually solve a lot of our problems."

If they had the money. The funding crisis at the Parks and Wildlife Department may ease some next year, if the legislature goes along with the Governor's expected request to dedicate the entire state tax on sporting goods to state parks. That'll bring in about a hundred million dollars a year, which will be used statewide, but which may or may not help the battleship. Hopkins says the private Battleship Texas Foundation is shifting its fund raising into high gear, because it's going to take a lot of money to save the Texas.

"We're gonna start with about, hopefully, 20 million dollars. We think another 12 to 12 and a half would probably get us good to go, so about 32 and a half million dollars. There's been other estimates upward to 40 or 50 million, but it just depends again on what you want to do with it. And part of this initial crunch of money we hope to get will do a feasibility study, where we can determine exactly what does need to happen to get this out of the water."

Hopkins says this is the challenge facing the new battleship manager, and it must be met because the Texas is a major artifact of American naval history. She was built in 1912, and was one of the first American battleships built on the model of the British HMS Dreadnought, which brought naval warfare into the 20th century. The Texas is the last of the Dreadnoughts. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.